Catawba says goodbye to special seniors

By Ronnie Gallaghner, The Salisbury Post Saturday could be the greatest day of Shawn McBride’s college football career. It will definitely be saddest.First, the greatest part. With a win over arch-rival Lenoir-Rhyne, McBride and Catawba will earn their third straight bid to the Division II national playoffs. It would be the 38th victory in four seasons. It would put an end to a career that saw All-American honors and a starting position every day that he wore Catawba blue. Now, the sad part. Playing in front of a regular season crowd of Indian faithful is coming to an end. “Being a senior, you’re not ready for it to end,” McBride said Tuesday during the Catawba press conference at Western Steer. “It will probably hit me when I come through the tunnel.” McBride is one of three senior linebackers who make up the strength of Catawba’s highly-ranked defense. Shawn Sanders and Darris Morris are also playing possibly their last game at Shuford Stadium. Currently ranked fourth in the South Region, they must hope for a win and a Central Arkansas loss this week so they can move back into the top two, insuring a first-round home game. *** Regardless, McBride has spent much of this week looking back to when he was a freshman. He remembers guys like Josh Osteen and Ronnie Harrington playing their last game. “Ronnie was my idol,” McBride said. “He took me under his wing.” Now, McBride looks at this year’s young bucks and smiles. Guys like Kenny White, Dustin Cox and Maurice Simpkins are hoping to step into the senior linebackers’ shoes. “We’ve tried to be leaders,” McBride said. “When some of the young guys get down, we tell them we still believe in them.” *** The leadership this year’s seniors have shown is evident by the 8-1 record, according to redshirt freshman quarterback Luke Samples. He took over for senior Scott Sensing after the third game and wondered what type of reaction he’d receive from the seniors. “They are not big, bad, intimidating seniors,” Samples said. “They’ll talk to you and help you out. “Scott has a lot more experience than I do. Every time I come off the field, he’s right there to help me out. I was kinda thrown in there and was worried how people were going to react. But they all seemed to accept it.” Head coach David Bennett knew they would. He called this year’s senior class, “special.” “If you look at all of our senior classes, this group has won more football games in their career,” said Bennett, trying to hold back some tears. “As far as volunteering, grades, production on the field — they have to be listed as a special group of young men.” *** It’s a sad time for Bennett. The last regular season game always is. “You look at each kid in this senior class and remember back to when they were freshmen,” he said. “Each kid has a story. “You look at those linebackers and what they’ve meant to this program. You look at Scott Sensing accepting whatever role we gave him. Mark Sintich has a high ankle sprain that would keep most anybody out but this is his senior year and he’s getting treatment three, four times a day ...” This senior class also brought in the greatest kicker in Catawba history — record-setting Matt Gross of Hendersonville, like McBride, a four-year starter. “I don’t want it to be Senior Day,” Gross said, “because it means your time is coming to an end. It will probably hit me after the season, when I’m not going to weight training with the guys and not going to those early-morning workouts or spring practice.” *** McBride will go out this week and do what he’s done for four seasons: headhunt. “The only goal I have this week is to win,”he said. “Not only for myself but for the alumni.” What will McBride remember? “The people I’ve met and the wonderful coaches who shared their knowledge with me,” McBride said. Bennett said that after Wednesday’s practice, a ritual will continue. Each group will carry a senior off the practice field on its shoulders. “And when they put those pads on Saturday, it’s going to get emotional,” Bennett said. Twenty years from now, Gross and McBride will be talking to their children about their playing days. “I’m going to tell them it’s real out there,” McBride said. “I’ll tell them to just keep on keeping on.” “I wouldn’t change a thing,’” Gross added. “Looking back, Catawba was the right place for me.” ######

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